Archive for the ‘Resurrection’ Category

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A recent series of text messages from a family member asking me about the rapture – an event in which God would suddenly snatch away into the clouds all Christians from earth before the end-time atrocities of the Antichrist – led me to reexamine what the Bible teaches about the subject.

The idea of the rapture was first introduced by Puritan preachers Increase and Cotton Mather in the 1700s, followed by theologian John Darby in the 1800s, then popularized in the 1970s by Hal Lindsey in his book, The Late Great Planet Earth, and by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their Left Behind series of books in the 1990s. It is also a doctrine by some evangelical preachers and denominations based on their interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, but also of Matthew 24:27-31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; and Revelation 20:4. (Wikipedia)

According to their interpretation of these passages, Christians will be snatched away to be with Christ in heaven before the tribulation happens, leaving behind unbelievers to suffer under the worldwide tyrannical and destructive rule of the Antichrist for seven years. Christ will then return to punish the Antichrist and his followers, and rule the earth for a thousand years, before pronouncing final judgment on all who have ever lived. This is known as the pretribulation rapture or premillennialism (before the one thousand years of Christ’s rule).

Besides pretribulation rapture, there are variations of beliefs on when the rapture will occur – midtribulation, prewrath tribulation, partial tribulation (all three happening during the tribulation), and post tribulation in which the rapture occurs at the second coming of Christ. (Wikipedia)

But 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 shows that the apostle Paul was writing about the resurrection of the Christian dead at Christ’s second coming (the first coming being his birth in Bethlehem). The Thessalonian Christians were worried about what would happen to their fellow believers who had already died before the return of Christ, so Paul assured them that:

“We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.” (1 Thess. 4:15-17, NLT)

I’ve highlighted key phrases that are important in comparing the other scripture passages with the above Thessalonian passage. For example, the phrase “caught up” in verse 17 was translated in the Latin manuscript as rapiemur, derived from raptus and raptura (a kidnapping, a carrying off, taken away). This Latin translation came from harpagisometha (caught up or taken away) used in the Greek version of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, while a shortened form, harpazo, is also used in Acts 8:39, 2 Cor. 12:2-4, and Rev. 12:5. (Wikipedia)

The Matthew 24:27-31 passage lists some of those same phrases and gives us a specific time when Christ will return – after the tribulation.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31, ESV)

So, along with Matthew specifying the time of Jesus’ second coming as happening immediately after the tribulations, the similarities in these two passages include:

• The Lord or Son of Man returning from heaven or coming down in clouds from heaven

• His arrival will be announced with loud trumpet sounds from his archangel and angels

• He will gather his elect – Christians both living and dead, with the dead raised first – and take them up into the clouds

These similarities are also seen in the 1 Corinthian 15 passage which adds one key phrase – the last trumpet:

“ But let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die.” (1 Cor. 15: 51-53, NLT)

The last trumpet is important because it links all three passages and their trumpet references to Revelation 11:15 (in which the seventh and last trumpet will announce the second coming of Jesus Christ) and Revelation 20:4 in which Christ resurrects the Christians martyred during the tribulation, and reigns with them (and the rest of his elect) for a thousand years.

So, these passages from I Thessalonians 4, Matthew 24, 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 11 and 20 are unified in showing:

• Christ’s return occurring immediately after the tribulation

• He will come down in clouds from heaven

• His arrival will be announced with a seventh and last trumpet blast from his archangel and angels

• He will gather his elect – Christians both living and dead – and take them up into the clouds (in the same way that he was taken up at his ascension)

• His elect, including Christians martyred during the tribulation, will rule with him for a thousand years

There is one more passage – Matthew 24:40-41 – that is used by the rapture proponents to describe the snatching away of believers into heaven:

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.” (NLT)

But this passage must be interpreted in light of the preceding verses 37-39 in which Jesus teaches that his second coming will be like in the days of Noah when the people did not heed Moses’ warning about the coming Flood and went about living life as usual. When the Flood came, it “took them away” or “swept them away,” depending on the various translations. It is this destructive sense that one must interpret the phrase “one will be taken” in verses 40 and 41. The ones that are left behind are the ones that are saved from destruction, as were Noah and his family.

The doctrine of the rapture, as an event in which God will suddenly snatch away all Christians from earth before the tribulation of the Antichrist, is a misinterpretation of these scriptural passages and, therefore, is not biblical.


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None of us has escaped those passages of life during which we are troubled, confused, drained of all vitality and direction, or plagued by self-doubt and ineffectiveness.

Recently I have been suffering from writer’s block as I try to work on both a novel and this blog. Among the doubts that seem to be blocking my efforts to write are: Am I good enough? Do I have anything significant to say? Will people read what I write? Will my writing inspire people to journey with Jesus Christ? Will my life or my work for Christ matter?

I was therefore encouraged when I came across I Corinthians 15:58:

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (New Living Translation, NLT)

This verse comes at the end of the 15th chapter in which the Apostle Paul responds to critics who claim that the resurrection of Christ is a lie and that the Christian faith is empty and useless.

Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that:

• The resurrection was factual—that Jesus was crucified and died for our sins, that he was buried in a tomb, that God raised him to life on the third day, that he was seen by Peter and the disciples as well as over 500 people, including James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul himself. (I Cor. 15:1-10)

• Because Jesus was raised from the dead, all who are related to Jesus by faith will also be raised from the dead. (verse 22)

• Because Jesus overcame death and ascended into heaven with a new heavenly body, all who are in Jesus Christ will also be resurrected with new bodies fit for his heavenly kingdom. (verses 42-53)

• Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death is no longer a source of dread or fear for those who follow him, for he has defeated death and gives us hope and assurance for life beyond the grave. (verses 54-56)

For all these reasons, Paul insists that nothing we do is useless in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have each been called to share the good news of his life and resurrection in all areas of our lives, and we should not be discouraged during those passages of life when we are troubled, confused, drained of all vitality and direction, or plagued by self-doubt.

Instead, Paul encourages us to be strong, steadfast, and enthusiastic in all that we do—for it is by remembering and celebrating Christ’s resurrection that we find meaning , strength, and reason to face the challenges of our lives.

We should not worry about the results of what we do for Christ, for that’s up to our Lord. Our responsibility is to be obedient to the Lord and to the tasks or call that he has given each one of us.

It is enough for us to be assured that nothing that we do for him is useless or in vain.

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Recently I was watching MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on his show, The Last Word, when, in responding to a rival TV host who claimed that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were evidence of the last days as depicted in the book of Revelation, he retorted, “The book of Revelation is a work of fiction that describes how a truly vicious God would bring about the end of the world. No half-smart religious person actually believes the book of Revelation anymore. Those people are certain that their God would never turn into a malicious torturer and mass murderer beyond Hitler’s wildest dreams.”

He went on to say that no “good and thoughtful Christian literally believes everything in the Bible,” citing such laws requiring the stoning to death of people who blasphemed the name of God, worked on the Sabbath, or disrespected a parent.

While there are many people who would express similar views, especially in a modern society that is becoming more secularized, there are also many “good and thoughtful Christians” on the right and the left who believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that Revelation has something relevant to say to us. I count myself among them.

As a “half-smart” person who has traveled the world, lived in several countries, am moderate in my political and religious views, and hold undergrad and graduates degrees from both private conservative and public liberal universities, I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ and a serious student of the Bible. So here are my thoughts on the book of Revelation and some of the issues Lawrence cited:

* Revelation is a book of prophecies that, like many prophecies throughout the Bible, predict events that occur both within a short time of the prediction, as well as in some unspecified time in the distant future. Chapters 1-3 contain prophetic messages of warning and hope to Christians in seven churches in Asia, who were being persecuted by Emperor Domitian around A.D. 90-95 because they refused to worship him as a god. Chapters 4-22 contain prophecies about events that are yet to come, warning Christians about being seduced by the world, and encouraging them to stand firm and strong in their faith as they endure persecution and hardships.

* Revelation was written in an apocalyptic literary style that used a kaleidoscope of dramatic and symbolic imagery to convey a message of hope to persecuted Christians. It was a coded message designed to not only confuse the Roman persecutors who might get hold of this document, but also to be understood by the persecuted Christians for whom it was intended.  And it applies to Christians facing persecution in present and future times and places. While I don’t interpret the strange and startling imagery of Revelation literally, I accept as truth the central messages or themes that the book conveys. These themes include:

+    God is sovereign and is the greatest power in the universe. Rulers, empires, and religions will come and go, but despite the prevalence of evil and injustice throughout the history of the world, God is in control and will ultimately wipe away the powers of darkness and evil and unite true believers in his eternal kingdom.

+    Christ will return as the triumphant Ruler. The message is that no one knows the time of his return, but he will return and establish an eternal kingdom of peace, goodness, and security.

+    God’s people must remain faithful and devoted solely to Jesus. Each generation faces the temptation to give its allegiance to false gods, individuals, things, ideologies, wealth, fame, and more, but the call to remain faithful and devoted solely to Jesus rings out more than ever to God’s people, no matter in what era or under what circumstances we might live.

+    There will be a final Day of Judgment when the purveyors of evil and injustice will be punished and faithful believers rewarded with eternal life in God’s kingdom. Jesus confirms this in other books of the Bible, such as Matthew 16:27 and 25: 31-46.


+    Hope–in a resurrection from death to eternal life. Revelation and other books of the Bible reflect this theme, notably I Thessalonians 4: 13-18, where the apostle Paul describes how, on the day of Christ’s return, God will raise to life every person who has ever died—some to eternal reward, others to eternal punishment.

+    Hope—in a new heaven and a new earth. This theme is also in 2 Peter 3: 7-13 which describes how the heavens and the earth will be consumed by fire on that day of judgment and a new heaven and new earth will be revealed.


As for Lawrence’s references to the punishment of stoning people to death for such acts as child sacrifice, adultery, disrespecting parents, and blaspheming (Leviticus 20; Deuteronomy 22 and 27), we have to put them in their historical context to understand why God would command such severe measures.

Briefly stated, they were part of the covenant laws that God gave to the Jews after he led them out of slavery in Egypt and establish them as his holy nation to be the source of truth and salvation to all the world.  He gave them moral, civil, and ceremonial laws by which to live as a holy people, set apart from the pagan nations around them, and stressed to them, “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Exodus 1-40; Leviticus1-27)

But the Jews failed to fulfill their calling as a holy nation, for they were constantly attracted to the lifestyles of surrounding pagan peoples, especially by the worship of fertility gods, temple prostitution, and loose morality. Time after time the Jews rebelled against the holy ways of God and followed the religions and lifestyles of their pagan neighbors, even practicing child sacrifice despite the eventual punishments that they would incur.

As Christians, we do not follow those laws that were meant for Jews going through a particular time in their history, because God has provided a new covenant of salvation for people of all nations and races to follow—a covenant of faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul, a devoted Jew and rabbi who persecuted Christians and watched as his people stoned Stephen to death for following Jesus Christ, saw the futility of the law after his own dramatic and powerful conversion to Jesus. Paul later wrote:

No one can be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know God’s law, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying it. (Romans 3:20)

Instead, Paul came to understand that God had provided a different way to please God:

We are made right in God’s sight when we trust Jesus to take away our sins. And we can all be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Jesus Christ, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us….Our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-25a, 27b-28, New Living Translation)

And it is with faith that Christians must approach the book of Revelation, for it was Jesus Christ who gave John, the writer of Revelation, a prophetic vision of events that would happen to Christians in the seven churches of Asia in the first century and to the Christian believers throughout history. (Revelation 1:1-2)

One might argue that prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled are essentially fiction, and therefore Revelation must be considered fiction.

However, the Bible contains over 2,500 prophecies of which about 2000 have already been fulfilled (http://www.reasons.org/fulfilled-prophecy-evidence-reliability-bible), especially Old Testament prophecies predicting things about Jesus hundreds of years before he was born. The following two websites provide examples of Old Testament prophecies that came true in Jesus–http://www.askapastor.org/proph.html and http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/old-testament-prophecies-jesus-fulfilled.html.

With over 80% of biblical prophecies already fulfilled, and 20% yet to be fulfilled in the future, I encourage readers to look past the strange imagery of Revelation and see the essential messages of truths that will be revealed.


“God blesses the one who reads this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to it and obey what it says. For the end is near when these things will happen” (Revelation. 1:3)



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